The Disturbing Psychological Impact of Superstitions on Children

Jenni Wallis

The world still has its handful of superstitions and mystical, pre-Enlightenment religious beliefs do still hold sway in society. In some Asian cultures the vast number and the disturbing depth of superstitions that dominate can often paralyze the lives of locals and lead to severe anxiety. In Bangladesh, for instance, tabeej (or voodoo dolls) can be used to spark fear in others and to incite hate, and these have been known to leave deep emotional and psychological scars on those who are targeted in this manner. (1) In the underdevoloped regions of the world (and especially among those living in poverty), what is known as black magic still runs deep, even though there is absolutely no scientific evidence that could bolster any of their beliefs and claims. (2) Superstitions and anti-modern religious beliefs can have devastating psychological and medical consequences, especially on the youth.

Brainwashing Children in 21st Century America

A few years ago, the broader public got a unique opportunity to see how fundamentalist Christian groups go about brainwashing children in the world’s most developed country. What many people perhaps assumed could not possibly exist in the 21st century western world not only occurred, but did so without the intervention of child services, even though these fundamentalist youth camps engaged in a form of psychological child abuse. The guiding principle of Jesus Camp is stark and clear: “We believe that there’s two kinds of people in this world: people who love Jesus and people who don’t.” (3) This “us vs. them” mentality opens the doors to fear and paranoia of “the other” and, ultimately, justifies violence, as camp counsellors refer to the struggle between these two types of people as a veritable war.

Religion and a Tradition of Child Abuse

Child abuse — psychological, physical and sexual — is one of the threads that links together vastly different religious groups. Most recently, for instance, an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect called Lev Tahor fled authorities in the Canadian province of Quebec after local child services officials noted that they intended to put the religious colony’s underaged members in foster care. It was discovered that the cult’s children were shockingly malnourished, lived in filth and showed signs of physical abuse. A total of 120 children fell victim to the mad beliefs of this sect in Quebec’s Sainte-Agathe-des-Monts community, where local officials found that kids were drugged by the sect’s leaders with melatonin, because they believed that this was the best way to control their behavior. (4) Equally troubling was that girls were required to marry by age 14 and boys who disobeyed authorities were tortured with wire hangers. These stories echo the poor treatment of children on other fundamentalist religious communities, most notably perhaps in the polygamist Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a radical off-shoot of the Mormons. As early as 1953, American child welfare authorities had to step in and remove hundreds of children who had been mentally or physically abused. (5)

The Consequences of a Brainwashed Childhood

History is full of examples of what has happened to promising children after extended periods of brainwashing and psychological abuse at the hands of religious organizations. In some parts of India, a belief in so-called “faith healing” often results in criminal neglect of children and the dismissal of essential medical treatments. (6) Even more disturbing is the fact that in some communities in India, skin branding and body modification are still practiced and children end up being the victims of this cruel practice. (7) Not only does this result in permanent scarring, but leads some brainwashed parents to think that by doing this to their children, they can avoid proper treatment by doctors. These are the types of traumatic, scarring childhood experiences that can lead to drug and alcohol addictions in adulthood, as well as serious mental illness, many of which go undiagnosed and untreated. (8) Specialists believe that 45% of mental illnesses are left untreated and those who have had traumatic childhood experiences are more likely to fall into this category. (9)

Anti-Modern superstitions and religious practices should not be seen as quaint, harmless relics of the past. They have the ability to cause real damage, especially among the most vulnerable members of our society.


(1) Anika Hossain, “The Psychology Behind Superstitions,” AsiaOne News. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(2) Black Magic, Committee for Eradication of Blind Faith. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(3) George Dvorsky, “The Art of Brainwashing Children,” Sentient Developments – Science, Futurism, Life. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(4) “Lev Tahor: 5 questions answered on the ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect fleeing Canada,” CBC. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(5) Kimberley Winston, “Analysis: Fundamentalist Mormons stress polygamy above all,” USA Today. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(6) Janet Heimlich, Breaking Their Will – Religious Child Maltreatment. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(7) Varma Chaitanya, Skin Branding in Indian Children: A Still Prevaling Superstition in the Modern Era, Web MB Central, Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(8) Knowing when you have a problem, Rehabs. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.

(9) “50% of individuals with severe psychiatric disorders are receiving no treatment,” Mental Illness Policy. Accessed on: June 8th, 2014.